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Recent Teen Suicides Spur Action in Houston Community

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Anti-bullying efforts focus on at-risk youth

by Josef Molnar

As the last clods of earth were shoveled into Asher Brown’s final resting place and protesters packed away their signs to leave, the tragic story of another gay Houston teenager’s suicide could have ended without any special media attention.

But unlike the typical media stories about gay children and young adults who take their lives each year, this Cy-Fair student’s death has become part of a group of bullying-related suicide stories that has finally struck a nerve around the country.

Deb Murphy, spokesperson for the Montrose Counseling Center, said the apparent increase in suicide stories reflects the media’s recent decision to cover this issue, rather than an increase in the number of gay youth suicides.

“I don’t know that we’re having a rash of suicides,” she said. “I think it’s more a case of a rash of media reports about it.”

LGBT youth are two to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts, and 30 percent of completed suicides are by gay youth, Murphy said. Bullying is a key factor that can end up sending gay youth over the edge.

“The pressures on gay kids are stronger,” she said. “Not only do they have the usual adolescent youth issues, but they also have issues with coming out.”

People like Chris Arasin have decided that Brown’s life can serve as a wake-up call to the LGBT community, much like the tragic story of Matthew Shepard’s death 12 years ago. Arasin recently formed Project Asher to get local gay people to submit video testimonies and encouragement for gay teens as part of the nationwide “It Gets Better” campaign on YouTube.

“The goal is basically for adults to speak about their personal struggles and how, over time, it got better,” Arasin said in an e-mail.  “[It’s] a way to try and get past the bullies at school, at home, at church, and everywhere else.”

Arasin is not alone. In Houston’s Museum District, St. Paul United Methodist Church’s school for pre-kindergarten children is hosting a free anti-bullying parent education workshop featuring +Works—or “Positive Works”—a new bullying awareness program. The event will be Wednesday, October 13, from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Jones Building at St. Paul’s, 5501 Main at Binz (near Bissonnet).

“We want to teach kids how to not be a bystander when this is going on, and how not to be a victim,” said Debra Fisher, the director of St. Paul’s School. “We really want to focus on making sure kids don’t stand by while this is happening.”

LGBT youth in Houston and around the nation can receive support through the Montrose Counseling Center, which hosts the Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals’ weekly gay teen support group, as well as its online forum at hatchyouth.org. For those who simply need someone to talk with, the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard Houston is available 24 hours a day at 713-529-3211. The nationwide Suicide Prevention Education Alliance also runs a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-273-8255, and a website at helppreventsuicide.org.

Murphy cautions against making the false assumption that the coming out process is easier for LGBT teens and young adults today than it was in the past.

“People want to lump youth in one category,” she said. “For some youth, coming out is easier. But for others, it’s as bad as it ever was. They have pressures from their church groups [and families]—and for some, school is not a safe place.”

“[For many kids, coming out] is a special kind of hell.”

Murphy encourages teenagers and youth who are being bullied to empower themselves with affirming thoughts.

“I tell youth that bullies are, by definition, stupid people—and they should not believe anything a stupid person tells them,” she said. “I encourage them to seek help whenever they need it.”

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